Addressing cyber security risks at ports and terminals



Steven Jones, Maritime Director, The Security Association for the Maritime Industry (SAMI), London, United Kingdom


The Security Association for the Maritime Industry (SAMI) is widening its remit with regard to issuing guidance and support addressing the risks facing ports, ships and the services provided by its member companies. As part of this process cyber-attacks and threats are being treated very seriously indeed. Given the nature of the threats, the true extent of shipping’s cyber vulnerabilities remains uncertain. However, some experts fear that terrorists could use high-powered jammers to disrupt the global navigation satellite system (GNSS) and Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) reception, and there are also risks that terrorists could introduce a virus into the coding of vessel systems.

Concerns about jamming of navigation systems

The US Air Force, tasked with deploying and maintaining GPS satellites, acknowledges that GPS systems are vulnerable, since they are widely available for public use. Jammers transmit a lowpower signal that creates signal noise and fools a GPS receiver into thinking the satellites are not available. They can be used to confuse systems, which could have devastating consequences. The real extent of the threat is unknown, but some experts fear terrorists could use high-powered jammers to disrupt GPS reception on vessels or in military operations. The implications of cyber attack are great and growing, and so these jamming devices pose serious societal risks, and they are illegal to buy and use in many countries. All too often authorities are confident about pursuing anyone who buys a GPS jammer and claims they will prosecute anyone who uses one. Yet despite this, they are easily bought online for as little as US$50 from numerous internet sources – though these are low powered versions. However, the GNSS has the equivalence of just a 40 watt light bulb at 10,000 miles distance – so a one watt jammer could block GNSS over wide areas – a terrifying prospect. Concern over the impact of jamming the GNSS is growing. David Last, an emeritus professor of Bangor University in the UK and a well known authority on criminal use of GPS jammers, said that “GPS is so embedded in the transportation, manufacturing industries and economies of our societies that the risk is high”. There are hopes though that technology to automatically counter the threat of GPS jamming can safeguard the systems. Such equipment has been successfully demonstrated recently which can counter one small thread of the cyber threat.

Testing counter measures

As an example, a prototype …

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